On Madoromi's sleeve, New York based Japanese sound and video artist Sawako lists herself as playing "apples, ripple, voice, music box, things, others," while recording engineer Pandatone is credited with "sleeping melancholy". Sure enough, her pieces suggest an approach to gathering and processing sounds that treats them as little chunks of environment bound up with memories and atmosphere, to be gently scooped up and transplanted like delicate ferns into a new soil.
Like Max Richter or Library Tapes, Sawako proves adept at conveying the sounds of people inhabiting spaces, such as in "Passepass," which isolates a child's sudden cough against a backdrop of footsteps. Alongside the gentle humour of the everyday, there are moments of reflection and unease, most notably on "Appled Soapbox," where an elderly person's recollection becomes jumbled, incoherent dialogue. Although many of her samples are hard to identify - it's difficult to pick out those apples from among the other scrapes, clicks and rattles - they all carry a warm, homely quality, softening edges of the decaying chimes, wineglass harmonics and fragile, echoing vocal fragments that would otherwise put Madoromi at the more minimal, Ambient end of electronica.
Unfurling gently in a panoramic rather than linear style, in lesser hands, Madoromi's tracks might have ended up too insubstantial to really make an impression. But whatever vague qualities those "things, others" possess, Sawako has captured them with charm and grace. - The Wire
How apropos that Japanese native and NY resident Sawako should name her third full-length album Madoromi: the Japanese term, when translated, refers to a state of being betwixt sleeping and waking, and the album's nine compositions perfectly capture that in-between state where one hazily lapses in and out of consciousness. Aided by digital technologies and practices, Sawako constructs tranquil, electro-acoustic settings from a multitude of instruments (vibes, guitar, cello, music box) and real-world found sounds. The resultant pieces inhabit a deeply textured ambient space that's wholly satisfying despite the absence of conventional melody. Much of the material layers chiming tones, tinkles, angelic murmurs, cello tones, clicks, and piano fragments over softly lulling loops. Hazy echoes of instruments intermingle in slow-motion, resulting in resonating streams of hypnotic stillness.
The music's intimate, home-made feel comes to the forefront in "Passepass" where natural sounds like voices - coughing too - and footsteps invest the blurry loops with a palpably human dimension. "Appled Soapbox" is dominated by soft vinyl crackle and vibes but not so much that a distorted, garbled male voice can't be heard bobbing intermittently to the surface. The unsullied innocence of Sawako's music is exemplified by "Kira Kira," where sparkling chimes evoke the image of a crib-bound infant enraptured by a slowly rotating mobile, and the undoctored music box coda "Tiny Tiny." If one had to select a single piece as representative of this uniformly beautiful album (and perfectly-timed too at forty-two minutes), "Far Away," where an almost liquid state of entrancement emerges from tones and vocals that seem to melt into one another, might be the perfect choice.- Textura
On this, her third full-length release, Kato Sawako navigates the aural realm of narcotic sleeplessness, reveling in shadowy haze and perpetual out-of-body motion. Apparently an approximate translation of the album title expresses this sentiment precisely-the state betweem sleep and waking. On first listen, I thought to place this record firmly in EAI territory, however I've reconsidered and see this more in the vein of traditional electronic ambient. Perhaps this distinction exists only in mind, but I'm willing to go with it. While obviously digitally manipulated, "Madoromi" feels overwhelmingly organic, in the classicist tradition of even Eno or William Basinski. On opener "August Neige," stretched tones float atop gentle voices practically in Cocteau Twins territory. Don't ask me where the instrumentation originated, I have no clue, but the soft, cascading lushness completely fills the room. Similar tones reappear on "Uta Tane," but instead act as space construction for slow guitar moves, plucking out the slightest hint of a melody. "Far Away" revisits this methodology, bringing to mind visions of a bubbling stream in its mystifying pastoral deconstructionism. The detailed, close recording makes this process even more surreal as you are easily able to pick out distinct elements in the music. Perhaps hanging out in the cassette underground so long has made me appreciate the effectiveness of a real studio.
Disconnected ethereal voices act as a second commonality linking these proceedings. Some appear to be a female voice singing along with the music (presumably Sawako), while others could be sourced from field recordings of newscasts or random conversations, then treated to DSP re-assemblage. The more I think about it and listen deeply-the resounding stretches of pure drone appear to come from bells or chimes of some sort subjected to the same software manipulations; in turn reminding me of another rather similar recording from this year, Alejandro and Aeron's "Billowy Mass," but without (I'm assuming) the intention of being an alternate text. Each of the nine tracks magically appear distinct but never break from the mold. Shortened track lengths work as an asset, as each comes across as a movement presenting a variation of a unified whole.
Wonderfully simplistic cover art immediately drew me into this one when I pulled it from the mail bag: pale red/pink watercolor droplets spilling onto glossy cardstock. With all the stress in our lives these days, take sometime to empty your mind. If you need something to induce the process, check out Sawako before those with the power make it illegal. The North American distribution is being handled by Forced Exposure, so this one will be easy to grab. Inspiring.
- Foxy Digitalis
Sawako's previous forays into lowercase audio sculpting have been published by such estimable imprints as 12k, and/oar and Community Library. This latest collection of pieces finds the Tokyo-based sound artist on top form too, shaping small, domestic-sounding pieces culled from a variety of location recordings, incidental noises and instrumental ramblings. Sawako has much in common with similarly-minded Japanese artists like Mondii, Ken Ikeda, or even Moskitoo and Piana, albeit devoid of any dominant vocal presence (despite the freeform utterances on 'August Neige' these pieces are focussed on abstract ambience), yet there's something very distinctive about the grasp on melody, which always seems to be at the forefront of these compositions, even if it is somewhat more subtle than on your standard pop fare. The likes of 'It's Not On Purpose', 'Kira Kira' and 'Applied Soapbox' could easily be mistaken for the work of Colleen, such is Sawako's skilful collision of organic sound sources and shapeshifting electroacoustic treatments. Excellent. - Boomkat
With little compunction, Sawako attributes the cello on her recent recording to one Jacob Kierkegaard, the sleeping melancholy to Pandatone, found memories to Cokiyu and Grandpa, and, at last, apples, voices, and music boxes to herself. A pinch of quiescence thus informs these sound sources and the works in which they play a part. Rather than take them apart and reassemble them at will, plumbing their depths for a secret content hidden beneath the form, Sawako takes up concern with the forms themselves, with how the content is articulated through them, and how they can stand in relation to certain others. Her approach thereby has more tenderness than virtuosity about it and, in like manner, the resulting songs hang heavy with the blithe play of sun and shade. At the same time, a certain disdain or mumbled word of misgiving might be cast towards these compositions were it not for Sawako's having invested them with a certain poetic mystery. Particular passages sink to a rasping whisper while, on a whole, the sound sources are largely blurred into abstruse assemblages of crackles, moans, and delicate chimes. No piece builds to a death rattle, yet there are passages of nostalgic, unsentimental epiphanies about impermanence that should be enough to keep one's thoughts churning. "Appled Soapbox", in particular, manages to extract an atmosphere of unease from the slow swirl of spectral electronics and soft vibes that wind like ribbon around the jumbled recollections of an elderly man. A faint displacement thus accompanies the music's undulating forward motion. Indeed, whichever space Sawako canvasses, the music is stately throughout. - e|i
Fantastic third release on Ezekiel Honig's Anticipate label and we have the lovely Sawako to thank for it. A charming blend of everything that she does so well. Using playful, organic tones and sound sources she arranges everything into a magical and beautifully melodic collection of deep, ethereal and fresh sounding pieces. Light and airy tones, twinkling, sparkling melodic fragments and super elements of percussive sound to give everything a lovely movement and an overarching feeling of blissful innocence. That's the key, as always, with her music... it's an appealing sound as it taps into something on a subconscious level allowing you to sit back, relax and enjoy this creative electronic music. I've got to recommend this as it's absolutely lovely. Props to both artist and label. - Smallfish